David Letterman feels badly. For 18 years and at every opportunity, he has tortured Monica Lewinsky on his nationally televised show, and now that he's retiring, he wants it known that he feels guilty about it.
It's a little late of the "Late Show" host -- don't you think?
Letterman talked about his regret in an interview last week with now-retired Barbara Walters, who was one of the very few broadcast figures consistently kind to Lewinsky after her affair with President Bill Clinton. Most talk show hosts, and millions of Americans, treated Lewinsky like a fly whose wings needed to be peeled off. And boy did they peel them.
It was Lewinsky's recent piece in Vanity Fair that sparked Letterman's remorse, the one in which the now 40-year-old wrote about what it was like to suffer prolonged international humiliation at age 23. Letterman said he feels badly that Lewinsky can't find a job now, and I believe he means it. He appeared genuinely contrite.
Others used the Vanity Fair piece to kick Lewinsky in the teeth just one more time. The New York Post's Andrea Peyser did that. The lede to her column about Lewinsky's Vanity Fair story was "Make her go away!" Her column was cruel, and I find that near unforgivable.
I've never met Lewinsky. But I saw her once. It was early one morning in 1997 or '98, a couple of years after the scandal broke. I was getting out of a cab and she was getting into one on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street. What I noticed most was her brilliant blue eyes -- and the awkwardness with which she was fighting to maintain her composure, as a stream of passersby, including me, stared at her.
The way I like to tell the story is that I winked at Lewinsky as we passed each other and said, "looking good, kid," in the easiest possible way. But in truth I didn't think of the line until after her cab had pulled away, and by then it was too late. To this day, I wish I had thought of something encouraging to say.
What bugs me about Letterman's comments isn't that they come too late. It's that they're likely going to be followed by a stream of other celebrity talk-show types saying the same thing. Just as the media herd mentality crucified Lewinsky in the '90s, I'll bet Letterman has kicked off the new narrative which will be, "How could we have been so mean to her?"
It will, no doubt, make a lot of people feel better about themselves.
A little girl on a school bus had her glasses pulled off a few weeks ago by one of her classmates. In a game of keep-away, the glasses were tossed from person to person on the back of the bus. No one stepped forward to help the girl, who happens to be my daughter.
What makes people so cruel and so weak? Where are the heros?
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.